Andrew Noyes, Gay.com/Planetout.com Network
Wednesday 3 August, 2005
A coalition of US congressional leaders on international and human rights issues sent a letter to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo this week, voicing strong concern over the recent case of a Nigerian
man sentenced to death by stoning for sodomy.
Lawmakers across the pond have recessed for the month, but the members pulled together to draft the strongly worded letter before they left Washington.
Twenty-two House Democrats, led by gay Democrat Representative Barney Frank, told the leader of the African nation that "the specific
circumstances of this conviction are highly problematic" and that execution of any individual for private, adult, consensual sexual activity is "grossly inhumane" and "below the standards that any
civilized society should uphold".
The 50-year-old from the ancient northern state of Kano was accused of having sex with another man, which led to his arrest and appearance before a Sharia court.
After being acquitted of the charge for lack of evidence, the defendant admitted to the judge, when asked, that he had had sex in the past with
men. On that basis, he was convicted and is now on death row awaiting execution by stoning. There was no suggestion in the conviction that the sex was not consensual, lawmakers said.
In the letter, the group urges Obasanjo to intervene in the case to assure that the man’s legal and human rights are respected and defended. They shared the view of the special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, who recently ended a visit to Nigeria with a call for the death penalty to be dropped in cases of homosexuality and for "immediate measures to review the entire proceedings" of this man’s case in particular.
A State Department human rights report released last year described Nigeria’s record as "poor", and claims that the government "continued to commit serious abuses." It also describes the country’s judicial system as often "incapable of providing criminal suspects with fair trials."
The lawmakers expressed their support for the administration’s efforts to transform Nigeria from military to civilian rule and lauded the role the country is playing to help foster stability in West Africa. The group said they’d continue to be supportive of US aid to Nigeria, but asserted that "Americans are also entitled to expect that countries that benefit from our humanitarian and economic assistance will not tolerate practices that are so clearly in violation of basic human rights."
Joining Frank, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, in sending the letter were Reps. Barbara Lee, the senior Democratic woman on the House Committee on International Relations; Tom Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on International Relations; and Donald Payne, the senior Democrat on the International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations.
Human Rights Campaign Legislative Director Christopher Labonte told the Gay.com/PlanetOut Network that the United States "must show moral leadership in condemning human rights abuses around the world," and members of Congress have rightly taken a lead in calling attention to the incident.
"Sadly, persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
individuals is far too common in many parts of the world," he said Last February, 55 participants from 22 civil rights groups representing 16 countries across the African continent adopted a statement on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights. The group, which included signatories from Nigeria, noted that "we face human rights abuses which threaten our safety, our livelihoods and our lives" and explained the urgency of "action to safeguard our real situations and our basic rights".
"African lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people confront harassment from police; abuse by our neighbours and our families; and violence and brutality — sometimes punitive rape — on the streets," the statement provided by Human Rights Watch reads.
"Our intimate and private lives are made criminal. Political leaders< say these laws defend African 'cultural traditions' -- even though, without a single exception, these laws are foreign imports, brought by the injustice of colonialism."